Just about everybody knows about the first Yankee invasion, often called the War Between the States by locals and the Civil War by others.
The devastation wrought by the war was fearsome. Death and destruction were widespread. Slaves were emancipated but too often with little means to provide for themselves and their families.
In Georgetown County the exceedingly wealthy lost much of their land and their property. The black people who did the often back-breaking labor that generated much of the wealth were free. With the loss of so many wealthy rice plantations, there were few jobs for the suddenly-freed field hands, trunk minders, millwrights, coopers, carpenters and so many others.
For many blacks, they had nowhere else to go. For their former owners, there wasn’t much to enable them to pay their workers.
Share cropping became a new way of raising some produce and livestock, but it didn’t offer much means or incentive for the formerly enslaved people to become self-sufficient.
Some rice was still produced in what had been the most productive rice-growing area in America. In the years before the War, more than 150 rice plantations made Georgetown County a major source of rice, leading the country and one of the leaders in the world in rice production.
With the loss of the slave labor force, not so many people were willing to continue that work. Some did so, but hurricanes, flooding and several periods of tough economic times all but destroyed the rice industry by the dawning of the Twentieth Century.
Some plantation owners and some of the former slaves left the South to go elsewhere to try to make a living and provide for their families.
As rice crops dwindled, the thousands of acres of rice fields languished. Times were tough for many, for blacks and whites alike.
The rice birds that would descend on the fields and eat the rice and the seeds began to get more avian company. Among the birds that would enjoy the bounty of the fields that were no longer so closely tended were many species of ducks.
Dr. George C. Rogers, Jr. wrote in his book, “The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina”:
“The purchase of rice plantations by outsiders which began in the 1890s went on until the 1930s. In the years after 1900 the rich Yankees came to seek what their fathers had destroyed. This, the second Yankee invasion of Georgetown County, strengthened the national myth about the glories of the Southern plantation past, a movement of which the film “The Birth of a Nation” was an early teaser and “Gone With the Wind” the final statement. It was under this blanket of national public opinion that the solid South was put together. These Yankees had no desire to reform the South in any way.”
Leading the way
That “saving of the South” and particularly Georgetown County and thousands of acres of former plantations owes a lot to a stick-in-the-mud President, Grover Cleveland.
The heavy-set President was duck hunting in December 1894 at the Santee Gun Club in the marshes of Georgetown County. After downing a duck he was in the water to retrieve it. His weight led him to sink into the pluff mud that’s abundant in the marshes and former rice fields all over the Lowcountry. Guide Sawney Caines had to pull Cleveland out, leaving the President’s boots stuck in the mud. Once the President was back in the boat, Caines retrieved the boots, too.
When word of the incident got out, national headlines read something like “President almost drowns in South Carolina.”
It wasn’t really quite that bad, but he did get stuck in the mud.
That got the attention to the safety of the President, of course, but it also brought more attention from wealthy Northerners who wanted to check out the hunting and the area that was good enough for Cleveland to give it a try.
Among those who came, hunted, bought plantations and then stayed on – at least part-time – were New York financier and advisor to Presidents Bernard Baruch, Bromo Seltzer inventor Isaac E. Emerson of Baltimore, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington of New York, Dr. Henry Norris of Pennsylvania, Jesse Metcalf of Rhode Island, Thomas G. Samworth of Delaware, W.H. Yawkey of Boston, Walker Inman of Atlanta and beyond, and others.
Gotta do something
Another effort that proved to be a wise investment for some wealthy men was getting back to one of the earliest means of earning money.
Atlantic Coast Lumber Co. was organized at Georgetown in 1899. Investors included Georgetown men and lumbermen from other states, especially from Boston and New York.
After the boom of indigo and later rice, businessmen went back to the forest products industry.
At one time today’s Williamsburg County was part of the Georgetown District. The town of Kingstree got its name from the tall longleaf pine trees that were used as masts for British sailing ships.
Along with wood, naval stores and turpentine also came from the trees.
ACL bought land or timber rights to about 250,000 acres in eight counties. The logging camps employed hundreds of men who lived and worked from six logging camps. Hundreds more worked at the Atlantic Coast Lumber Co. and other lumber operations at or near where International Paper and Liberty Steel are today.
Adjacent to the ACL facilities, the DuPonts had an alcohol plant. The sawdust from the lumber operations was converted into alcohol.
After a devasting fire and the Great Depression, ACL went out of business. Much of its land and holdings were purchased by the Southern Kraft division of what became International Paper Co., which still operates today on the banks of the Sampit River.
Across the highway from International Paper Co., Liberty Steel has some of the land that was once the site of the ACL lumber mill, the largest of its kind in the country at one time.
Bernard Baruch enjoyed the hunting and from about 1905 to 1907 bought up about a dozen plantations, reconstituting them as Hobcaw Barony. That name and area goes back to the earliest settlement of Carolina in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
Presidents and premiers, movie stars, bankers, businessmen – many came to Georgetown and enjoyed Baruch’s hospitality.
Belle Baruch loved Hobcaw and over time bought the property from her father. In her will she established a foundation that still owns the property. Its 16,000 acres are forever protected and are homes to Baruch Institutes for Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, Francis Marion University and Coastal Carolina University. Many other colleges and universities, and public schools, use Hobcaw Barony as a living outdoor classroom and laboratory.
The Winyah Bay-National Estuarine Research Reserve is operated on the property with the USC Baruch Institute.
Taken together, more than a hundred research projects are done each year through the various colleges and universities.
Brookgreen Gardens is a world-renowned outdoor statuary garden. Its original four plantations were Laurel Hill, Brookgreen Plantation, Springfield and The Oaks.
Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington bought the 9,000 acres in 1930. What is today Huntington Beach State Park is the site of their Atalaya “castle,” modeled after Moorish architecture in Spain. The state park of about 3,000 acres is leased from Brookgreen Gardens.
Huntington employed local people to build Atalaya and other structures on the property. That employment during the Great Depression helped many people earn a living for their families. Anna Hyatt was a well-known sculptor before she married Archer Huntington. Atalaya’s construction was designed to serve not only as the couple’s home but also her studio. When you tour the “castle” – actually, the word means “watch tower” – you may see the areas where horses and bears were kept. They were models for some of her sculptures.
Dr. Isaac Emerson bought seven plantations that he named Arcadia. Today’s developments of DeBordieu Colony, Prince George, Alston Place and some others were once part of Arcadia. About 5,000 acres remains in Arcadia, and a significant portion is protected by a conservation easement with Ducks Unlimited.
Thomas G. Samworth bought Dirleton Plantation on the Pee Dee River. He was an outdoorsman, writer and editor. His land formed the core of what is today Samworth Wildlife Management Area off U.S. Highway 701 north of Georgetown.
Tom Yawkey was adopted by his uncle W.H. Yawkey and inherited his business interests elsewhere and the 24,000 acres of North Island, South Island and Cat Island of coastal Georgetown County. Together, these and some smaller islands make up the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve.
Yawkey and his widow established The Yawkey Foundations which provide funding for the heritage preserve and many other charitable efforts in Georgetown, South Carolina and in Boston, Massachusetts.
Among many other grants, the foundations helped establish Georgetown Memorial Hospital, the forerunner of Tidelands Health Group. Funds have helped multiple medical efforts in the years since. Its contributions are major sources of funding for Tara Hall Home for Boys and other charitable endeavors.
These properties and others are concrete evidence of the good that came from that “second Yankee invasion.” Along with the funding of many worthwhile projects and organizations, the individual plantations protect close to 100,000 acres of land in Georgetown County.
Not all land in conservation easements were protected by those Yankee purchasers, but many were.
Other protected lands include the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, which includes most of Sandy Island, other lands owned by The Nature Conservancy, such as about 1,300 acres along the Black River and another property in the Carvers Bay-Choppee area.
While not protected with conservation easements, the 15 or so golf courses in Georgetown County were all built on what were once rice plantations.
The efforts of those long-ago enslaved people and the plantation owners continue their legacies of beauty, enjoyment, the natural environment and natural wonder in the Tidelands of Georgetown County.